Brandevolution: Does Sensational Spelling Desensitize?

Brandevolution: Does Sensational Spelling Desensitize?
Paul Tefft
September 08, 2014
Scrabble letters that spell WORDZ

Our industry has fostered a dainty, flimsy, blurry line between great brand development and questionable strategies that seem to undermine the intelligence of everyone. Everywhere. First of all, how do you define great brand development? Is it the story? Is it the emotive element that seems to seep into our hearts and make us bleed Levi’s, Vans, Converse or Nike? Or, is it simply the bottom line? I have no idea. I’m no expert. I’m just a copywriter. 

However, career aside, and trust me, this is quite the aside (chock-full of arrogance and commas), I do have a grasp, as tenuous as it may seem, on what lies on the other end of the spectrum as “great” brand development – bad brand development. Because let’s face it, we’re all good at pointing out lousy ideas, writing, design, production, etc. Or are we?

For lack of thought, time and examples, I’m going to direct this argument toward one service you’ll find in any agency’s wheelhouse: rebranding. Taking something that has some buy-in, an audience and some profit – and strengthening its presence through better brand assets such as name, logo mark, color palette, etc. 

Etc. Etc. Etc.


A little bit about me. I consider Rod Serling one of my favorite writers. Quite possibly my favorite of all time. For those of you unfamiliar, he created the “Twilight Zone” series, which ran on CBS for five seasons, beginning in 1959. Serling began his career as a copywriter, saw an opportunity at the onset of the television age, and became a success to many. The series has had several moderations and reboots in both television and text (there is a great comic series of the franchise currently written by J. Michael Straczynski, published by Dynamite Entertainment). 

The “Twilight Zone” found a way to broadcast social commentary through a lens that the Federal Communications Commission wasn’t looking much through at the time, science fiction. Through the use of aliens, ghosts, robots and more, Serling had found a way to mimic topics such as communism, Nazi Germany, overpopulation, cultural homogenization and more during a time that most folks might have feared such ideas – particularly through their tube television screens. 

I’ve always fancied this notion. Taking something, say, a social truth, making it less mainstream and more nerdy, and ultimately escaping scrutiny from the masses. In a sense, science fiction was a communicative Trojan horse from outer space. And boy, do I love it. I loved it as a child and I love it now. 

Love. Love. Love.

Between Marvel comic books and the Sci-Fi channel, you could say I was a bit of a nerd. A very cool nerd, to say the … wait … did I write “Sci-Fi”? Shame on me; I meant Syfy (even though I wish I didn’t). Here’s why:

A loose explanation. 

Ownership of the channel has changed a few times since Viacom conceived it in 1992. But this doesn’t really matter, at least not from an earth-shattering, phonetic-spelling rebranding standpoint. 

According to Wikipedia, the network chose to use sensational spelling to help position the brand as ownable – far removed from the generic “sci-fi” terminology and thus more marketable. 

That’s great. And, from a branding standpoint, it’s smart. But from a conventional, (and maybe even purist) standpoint, it could be considered unintelligent. Welcome to the fine line I mentioned in my opening. As a copywriter, it’s fun to coin new words or misspell old ones. Who doesn’t want to pioneer new phonetic or grammatical territory? However, it’s not the copywriter in me posing this possible threat to our children, our culture and our intelligence. No sir, it’s the scholar and speaker of proper English language who has me torn. 

I’m not alone.

Speaking of English and grammar, even Stephen Colbert had a good bit about the Syfy name change. Particularly, he referenced the removal of the silent “c” and praised the network for doing so. Read between the lines though and you may sense some animosity toward this improper spelling. If anything, you sense some silliness. 

All in all, it doesn’t matter how you feel about sensational spelling in brand development because I’m willing to bet we can all find common ground with a bowl of Froot Loops, some shades from PacSun and a “Battlestar” marathon on Syfy. Unless you’re an English teacher, that is. Either way, it’s been a güd time writing this blawg.